AYER – Another chapter unfolded Tuesday night in the multi-month tussle between the Ayer Board of Selectmen and the Ayer Treasurer, all of whom hold town-wide elected office.
On May 14, Annual Town Meeting rejected a selectmen-initiated study which recommended that the town abolish the elected-Treasurer post in favor of a selectmen-appointed Treasurer. Under the rejected scenario, the Treasurer would have served within an all-encompassing, selectmen-appointed Finance Department. Also, Town Meeting set the budget for the 2-employee Treasurer’s Department for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2013 which begins July 1.
In December, the selectmen moved in executive session to strip supervision of Assistant Treasurer Melisa Doig from Treasurer Stephanie Gintner. Ever since, Doig has been managed by Town Administrator, Robert Pontbriand, despite the fact that Doig’s office and tasks remain in the Treasurer’s Department across the hall.
Gintner read aloud during the meeting a June 4 letter drafted by her attorney, Daniel Gelb, and sent to town labor counsel David Jenkins. In it, Gelb warned that a move to reclassify Doig was crossing a legal line, at least in terms of how Doig’s retooled post as a proposed Human Resources officer would be funded.
Selectman Chairman Jim Fay initially questioned Pontbriand if Gelb’s letter should be read aloud. “I dare say, that’s pertinent under our personnel executive session. I haven’t read the letter yet. I know I have the letter in my inbox. Is that not executive material?”
Pontbriand said the letter “would not fall under executive session material under any of the criteria” under the Open Meeting Law. As such, Fay deferred “to the will of the board.”
Selectman Pauline Conley argued that Gelb’s letter was timely. Later that evening, the board was set to vote on whether to send Doig’s reclassification request to the selectmen’s Personnel Board. Fay ceded the floor and Gintner read from Gelb’s letter.
“Treasurer Gintner is informing all concerned that the Treasurer’s Department will not permit a paycheck to be drawn from monies allocated to the Treasurer in order to pay an employee that is not managed by the Treasurer’s Department,” said Gintner, reading from the letter.
Furthermore, Gintner warned that she intends to hire a new assistant to “fill the vacancy in the Treasurer’s Office that will be created by Ms. Doig’s switching departments.”
“Should Ms. Doig no longer report to the Treasurer, her replacement will be paid from monies allocated to the Treasurer pursuant to the aforementioned [Annual Town Meeting] Fiscal Warrant,” wrote Gelb. “The Treasurer has the authority to appoint an employee that executes functions the Treasurer deems necessary.”
Doig and Gintner have been at odds since Gintner’s 2010 election. Selectman Gary Luca has championed Doig switchover to selectmen oversight, and has advocated repeatedly for Doig’s reclassification as a Human Resources director. As Assistant Treasurer, Doig is paid $45,836, according to the 2011 Town Report.
Luca, who is Ayer’s Postmaster, initially ran against Gintner for the Treasurer post. Luca withdrew from the race two weeks before the 2010 election. During his campaign, Luca expressed confidence that he could hold down both full time jobs. The Ayer Post Office is located immediately across Columbia Street from Ayer Town Hall.
Luca, who served as prior chairman of the board, also previously insinuated in open session that Gintner has violated the law while in office. Luca did not substantiate the claim which has since provoked a string of closed door meetings between Gintner, the board and their respective counsel.
Gintner wrapped up her recitation of Gelb’s letter with a promise “Treasurer Gintner will seek judicial intervention if the Board of Selectmen does not act in conformance with the Fiscal Warrant by following all legal requirements associated with the use of funds allocated to the Treasurer’s Department.”
Fay followed Gintner’s reading with a promise to revisit Gintner’s claims at the board’s June 12 meeting. “We’ll respond quickly,” pledged Fay.
Later in the meeting, and with no deliberation on a close split vote, the selectmen voted to send Doig’s reclassification request to the Personnel Board. “Let’s defer discussion until this comes back from the Personnel Board,” said Fay.
The lack of deliberation riled Conley and selectman Frank Maxant. “I’m calling the vote,” insisted Fay.
“Point of order Mr. Chair,” said Conley. “The members of this board have the right to discuss ”
But Fay proceeded to bring the matter to an immediate vote. Conley and Maxant opposed the move, while Fay, Luca and newly-elected selectman Christopher Hillman favored sending Doig’s reclassification request for review.
“When it comes back, we’ll certainly allocate more time,” said Fay. “This thing is a year and a half old. This shouldn’t be new to the board.”
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.